Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 25 October 2018
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
We are joined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, who is a permanent witness to the committee. He is joined by Deirdre Quaid, senior auditor. Apologies have been received from Deputy Deering.
I am holding over the minutes of the previous meeting and we will come to clear a few of them, in a group manner, shortly. Therefore, no matters arise from them as we have not dealt with them.
I appreciate we have correspondence and a good deal of work to get through but given the seriousness of the issue involving the 40 schools and media indications that the number will be even more than that, we need to allocate an unforeseen but serious level of priority to examining that issue. When the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills appeared before the committee when we were dealing with Cork Institute of Technology, CIT, the Marine Institute and problems that arose there, I asked about reviews of public private partnerships and the very lengthy periods that are allowed to elapse before they are reviewed and now, at least in one instance but potentially in more than 40 others where there may be difficulties, schoolchildren will have no school to go to in the next few weeks. In terms of value for money, this is a very serious issue. Clearly, a level of oversight, enforcement and inspection took place during the construction of those schools but the problems that have emerged certainly seem to suggest those processes and procedures were defective. Perhaps there are new procedures. We should move quickly to request the people from, I presume, the building unit of the Department of Education and Skills to come before us to give an account of what seem to be clear failings in the system that operated at the time these schools were being constructed.
I support what Deputy MacSharry has said. This is a very serious issue. It involves more than 40 schools and it may involve more. We all saw the images of the schoolchildren and their parents locked out of their school yesterday. I imagine temporary arrangements will have to be made which will involve a cost. There will be a cost involved for the taxpayer even in relocating the students. We do not know what remedial works will have to be carried out in all these schools to bring them up to the required standards. There are issues regarding contracts, regulation, enforcement and the other issues that have been raised. Would it be wise for us to request a detailed note from the Department on the number of and nature of the contracts for each of these schools and the number of schools involved? When we request that note, perhaps unfortunately more schools might be added to that list. We need a very detailed note on that. We also need to know the nature of the problems involved. We need as much information as we can get on it for the next meeting and we can determine then how we can map this from this committee's perspective. We should definitely write to the Secretary General of the Department today and get as much information as possible. The big issue is the way it will affect the children concerned, but from our perspective there is the value for money aspect and the additional costs involved, which I imagine is a guaranteed. Unfortunately, there will be an additional cost involved for the taxpayer. We need to understand what happened, why, and what lessons will be learned.
When the tender was done, one of the factors that saved money at the time was not having somebody on site to monitor the building. It is always harder to identify the faults that lie behind the walls once a building is completed. We need to focus on that particular aspect. Next week is the mid-term break in schools and assessments will be done and probably more information will become available after that. It might be useful to delay sending the letter until the end of next week as more information may have come into the Department, by which time it will have had sight of, or even a cursory glance over, the remaining schools that have to be examined.
I support that point and I do not need to repeat it. Regarding the ongoing inspection by the Department, I understand from an interview I heard that the Department was active in its inspection. We might have that clarified also in terms of what role it had when the schools were being built.
That is an important point. I note from media coverage that the company involved raised the fact that the Department was there every week or every two weeks inspecting, but who was inspecting? Was it administrative staff, a structural engineer or a quantity surveyor? Also, there are issues around planning enforcement in terms of planning and building regulations with respect to the impact there. If those questions could be included in the letter to the Department, that would inform our decision on this issue next week.
We are agreeing to write to the Department on those lines. We should ask it at this stage for the contract price for each of the schools involved. If we are sorting out the money side of this issue, we need to know the global cost of what is involved. We want to be specific on that. I propose that we write to the Department and ask that it reply by 13 November, as we have a meeting on 15 November. The Department will need a week or two to reply. If we get a quick reply, it will not be remotely complete. We will give it at least a fortnight and there will be updates on that. I am sure the Joint Committee on Education and Skills will deal with this issue but we will focus on the points that were mentioned, namely, the teaching, alternative accommodation, and the health and safety of students. The joint committee will inevitably deal with that latter aspect.
A substantial element of the issue, however, involves the contract, the procurement process, the tendering, supervision and cost of the project. Regarding each contract, and the Department can give us the information in a variety of ways, but, in terms of the company that won the contract to build the schools, I want to know what was the next highest price submitted by the alternative contractors. Did the company that was awarded the contract come in as the cheapest all round? In terms of its bid, where was it in the ranking? Was it marginally below the second one on the list or was it well below it? We would be worried if it was very well below the industry norm at the time. If it was, that in itself should have set off alarm bells. We want to examine that tendering process. We will seek that additional information from the Department on each of the tenders. We will ask it to give us as much information as it can supply by 13 November. That is a good two weeks away, and at that stage we can assess the issue at our meeting on 15 November. That is very helpful and I thank the members for raising that issue.
The next item on the agenda is correspondence received since the last meeting. Under category A - briefing documents and opening statements, No. 1668 A is from Ms Karen Murphy from the Irish Council of Social Housing, dated 19 October, providing a briefing note for today's meeting, including an overview of social housing provided by approved housing bodies, progress on publicly funded social housing outputs 2015–2018, the total amount of funding approved and received from public sources, and details of lands transferred by any public bodies between 2015 and 2018. We will note and publish that. We will return to this topic in November.
It is. We are holding it over. All items related to the housing issue will be noted for today but they will be on our agenda for when have our second meeting on the housing situation, which will be on 29 November.
There is. Chapter 10 in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report today, on which we have commented, is on the approved housing bodies. There is no statutory regulation there. The Comptroller and Auditor General made that point very clear in his report last month. We will be dealing with that issue and it is fair to raise it today. While the people from the Irish Council for Social Housing are not here today, the Secretary General of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government will be before committee.
An issue for us to watch is the advice from the Attorney General to the Department vis-à-vis the Higher Education Authority's powers and functions. Can we ensure that we get that as soon as it comes in and that we do not have to keep chasing it up? As soon as the Department has that, it should come to us as quickly as possible. It will be an interesting observation.
We will keep an eye on it. That was an important issue which came out the last day. The next items are No. 1670 A and 1671 A from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, dated 18 October, providing briefing information for today's meeting on Vote 34, specifically, details on lands transferred to approved housing bodies, details of publicly owned land, the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, and a note on the funding progress on a county-by-county basis. We will note and publish this.
No. 1680 A is from Mr. John O'Connor, CEO of the Housing Agency, dated 23 October 2018, and it is his opening statement. We will note and publish this.
No. 1681 A is from Mr. John McCarthy, Secretary General of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, and it is his opening statement. We will note and publish this.
The next category is B, correspondence from Accounting Officers and-or Ministers as a follow-up to the Committee of Public Accounts. We held over the following items and are continuing to hold them over. There are a number of items from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform responding to our previous periodic report. There is detailed correspondence, running to hundreds of pages, from the HSE, following up on our earlier meeting. We held over quite a lot over the summer because we had 100 items to deal with. I propose that for each meeting, we take one chunk and deal with it. I propose that, at the next meeting, we deal with the responses from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with regard to our previous periodic reports. It was slow to get to us so we do not want to be any slower following up. We will move on and clear a large chunk each time. I will note the reference numbers, which we have noted before. They are Nos. 1482 B, 1486 B, 1490 B, 1502 B, 1510 B, 1513 B, 1526 B, 1528 B, 1530 B, 1538 B, 1560 B and 1561 B. We have held all those over from the previous meeting and we will deal with them as well as we can from the next meeting onwards.
The next item is No. 1637 B from Ms Ann-Marie Walsh from the Office of Public Works, providing the managing valuer's report on five historic cases on foot of a preceding submission to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I note that we had that before and it is being held over again.
No. 1640 B is from Mr. Timothy Owens, chief executive of Cork Education and Training Board, ETB, providing further information requested by the committee regarding employment policies in Cork ETB. The item was held over from last week's meeting. It was agreed to circulate the transcript of a meeting of the committee in 2015 and this was circulated to members yesterday. I wondered what was going on when I got that 90 page email. I was scratching my head, wondering why that was asked for, and this is the answer. In the meantime, the correspondent who made the original enquiry and is the subject matter of the case has contacted the secretariat for a copy of the letter from the ETB and I propose to send this to the correspondent. We will also note and publish the correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 1649 B is from the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills, Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú. It relates to a previous item and is a response to a question regarding the possible prohibiting of people from applying for employment or re-employment as part of any legal settlement. This came to our attention in relation to Cork ETB. We will note and publish this and send it to the correspondent who has contacted us on this topic.
No. 1650 B is from Ms Kerrie-Anne Galvin from the National Treatment Purchase Fund on a review of the pricing mechanism for long-term residential care in the private and voluntary sector. Work is ongoing. We will note and publish the letter. We will mark that down and we want a copy of the report as soon as it is completed.
I know the Chairman wants to note it but I want to note that I think it is an unacceptable delay. We dealt with this issue with private nursing home providers when we had them in before us. I am not sure why it is taking so long. They say they were tied up with budgetary matters and other issues but I think it is unacceptable. It has implications for private and voluntary nursing homes because they will be setting a new pricing mechanism. They have said they will have it next month. They are meeting the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
They are scheduled to meet later this month. The steering group, which involves the National Treatment Purchase Fund and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, is scheduled to meet later this month to discuss the draft report and determine the next step. That is not a commitment to finalise it.
We have had problems before in flooding and other areas where steering groups are established, do not meet as often as they should and do not present reports in as timely a fashion as they should. If the steering group is in place to do a particular job, it should have done it. It seems the issue is sitting there, with a steering group which meets whenever it feels like it rather than having any sense of urgency. I advise that we go back and say that we think it should happen as quickly as possible. As soon as they have that report, it should be provided to the Committee of Public Accounts.
This query is on our desk because we as a committee wrote to them on 11 September to say that we wanted this information to complete our periodic report. At this point, they are holding up the committee in its work on completing our periodic report. It is only as a result of that that they are now saying that they will meet next month. If we had not contacted it, I wonder if this steering group meeting would even have happened. Perhaps it was already scheduled.
Can we get a note from them as to who is on this steering group, when it was established, how often it meets and how often it should meet? Maybe that will give us an indication as to whether there is a problem.
In other words, we want a copy of the minutes of the meetings of that steering group since its initiation. We want to know who the chairperson is, the date of the next scheduled meeting and the timetable to complete the work. They are holding up the Committee of Public Accounts in completing our work and we contacted them. Had we not done that, we might not even be aware of this. That is an example of us following up on our work in our periodic report. People think we forget about all these things that are mentioned here but we do not.
No. 1653 B is from Mr. Gerry Greally from the livestock breeding, production and trade division of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, providing an information note requested by the committee concerning a complaint to the European Commission regarding alleged illegal state aid to Horse Sport Ireland. Mr. Greally provides details of another similar complaint and states that the Department disputes both complaints and is responding to the European Commission accordingly. We will note and publish this but the matter is clearly in the hands of the EU.
How do we know, apart from if there is a public finding, when the European Commission has closed this or responded to this? Can we ask the Department to notify us of the response from the European Commission? We could be some time waiting for that.
When we get issues like that and are told they will be sent to the European Commission, they could be there for two months or three years. I do not know. We want an update for 8 December. We are not leaving before Christmas without knowing. We will track it on a periodic basis. When any of these issues come in, the matter is looked at, and we want to hear about them in two months. We will ask the Department for an update in two months. I have no concept of how long it will take.
Maybe the liaison officer would circulate a note. We will ask the officer liaising between the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and our committee to circulate a note on that issue rather than going around the houses asking the Departments and everyone else. That will be sent out to us during the week and we are going to keep track of it.
Next is No.1657 B from Ms Mary Lawlor, communications department, NAMA, providing an information note requested by the committee on the €24 billion sale of underlying assets with a geographic breakdown of where the purchasers were located. She does not answer the question. The information is interesting, but when I read it for the third time, I realised she did not answer the question. There is a very short paragraph that I want to read out. We had asked for a note on the €24 billion sale of underlying assets with a geographic breakdown of where the purchasers were located. That was straightforward. The reply is three sentences:
Since inception, €24 billion has been generated from the sales of secured assets by NAMA debtors and receivers. Of this, €13.2 billion was generated from the sales of assets located outside of Ireland. Based on our analysis, the geographic location of the purchasers of assets located in Ireland is set out in the table.
They have given us a table but we asked for a breakdown of the €24 billion and the geographic breakdown of where the purchasers were located. In the second sentence, she confirms that €13.2 billion or 55% of the assets were located outside Ireland, but the banks and loans fell to the Irish taxpayer. I am not worried about where the property was that fell to the Irish taxpayer. Then she proceeds to give us a breakdown of the locations of the purchasers of the 45% of the assets that were located in Ireland. She only gave us a breakdown of a subset of the €24 billion. We will send it straight back and say we want the original question answered. She broke our question into two halves and answered one half of it. That is not satisfactory. We will note and publish it but we are writing back for a proper answer.
Next isNo. 1659 B from Mr Robert Watt, Secretary General, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, providing information requested by the committee on the costs incurred by the State for the recent visit by Pope Francis to Ireland. The original inquiry referenced article 44.2 of the Constitution, which provides that the State guarantees not to endow any religion. We will note and publish the response. The response says that the Papal visit will not cost any more than the €20 million budget approved for the visit. That is one figure I want to put on the record.
I have no issue in respect of overtime and that aspect. That will be accounted for in respect of this visit. There was quite a short lead-in time in terms of the known date and procurement for other aspects such as fencing and so on. It does not strike me that there was time to have adequate procurement on this with multiple tenders and so on. There is an issue around that. What are the various aspects under the remit of the Office of Public Works, OPW? We know about the Garda Síochána. What are the other headings? I think there is an issue in respect of one or two things. It would be useful to write to the OPW asking for the headings of those so we can see if there is an issue with the fairly sizeable amounts. I am not talking about high-visibility jackets and things like that. I am talking about the serious spending.
This is the second letter in a row from a senior public body where we asked a specific question and have been given a detail in respect of a fraction of the question. Here we are told the OPW has advised that expenditure to date is €14.1 million. Then they give us a remark about Garda overtime which might be approximately €5.2 million. We need a breakdown of the €14.1 million from the OPW. That is reasonable. We will write directly to the OPW as the Deputy has suggested. In the meantime we will note and publish this.
Next is No. 1662 B from Mr Seán Ó Foghlú, Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, providing an update to the committee regarding the transfer of properties in respect of contributions from religious congregations towards the costs incurred by the State in responding to residential institutional child abuse.
I welcome the update from Mr. Ó Foghlú. It is clear. What is not clear is why it has taken so long. Going back to the 2002 indemnity agreement, 16 years later, five properties remain to be transferred fully. It was expected that four of these properties would have transferred by the end of quarter 3 of this year. The current position is that three of the five will transfer by the end of the year, one by the first half of next year, and I do not know when the fifth will transfer. That is outstanding.
If we go to the 2009 voluntary offers, I have followed matters up with the assistance of the Chair, who has been very attentive to it. They arose as a result of the Ryan report and its damning findings. Properties were offered on a voluntary basis. We were led to believe there would be no difficulty. That was in 2009 and of those 18 properties, nine still have not been transferred in 2018. I see that there is progress and that a lot of those buildings and properties are in use by various State bodies. I welcome that.
Coming to Galway and St. Anne's, Lenaboy, if anything typifies or brings into acute focus this whole scheme it is Lenaboy in Galway, which I think is empty since 2009 although I am told it has been empty officially since 2011. Galway City Council announced it was a gift. I have gone into that background and will not do so again. It was not a gift. It was given by way of redress. It has, inexplicably, remained empty since 2009 or at least 2011, and now we are told that a geophysical survey was carried out. I realise that was under way. I did not realise the city council had requested it. I understand that the results of the geophysical survey have not yet been provided to the congregation. A geophysical survey was commissioned. It is very important to see the results.
The context of the mother and baby home in Tuam is only relevant to today's proceedings insofar as we again have a Minister saying that the sisters of the Bon Secours are willing to give so much money. We are back again. We do not know the circumstances. It seems the Minister approached them for a contribution but it is not put in context. It is very important to give context in these matters. The context here is that this particular building at Lenaboy was never given as a gift. It was given as redress and it is inexplicably empty and deteriorating at a terrible rate since it became empty. In this regard and in respect of the other ones, I simply do not understand the role of the Department of Education and Skills or how it failed to ensure these agreements were complied with in a more speedy fashion. I do welcome the Department's continual updates and I welcome the progress.
Some of these are from 2002 and 2009. Obviously the 2002 properties are a legal obligation and the 2009 ones are a moral obligation. Given the particular sector in question, I would have thought the moral obligation would have been almost on a par with the legal obligation, but so be it. We have all said this kind of stuff before.
I want to find out about one or two practical things. The HSE and the Department of Education and Skills are pursuing the matter with different organisations because some of the facilities are being used, for example No. 15, the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. There is work being pursued on one of them. I am talking about No. 15. This offer comprises the lease of land for the operation of the National Rehabilitation Hospital and the transfer of a 33 acre site. It is stated that this transfer will facilitate the redevelopment of the hospital.
That project is under way.
The final paragraph states that work on this complex transfer is progressing but is taking longer than expected. The estimated timeframe for completion is the third quarter of 2019. Is the lack of clear title and spending of public money on a development delaying that? Is there duplication going on between the Department of Education and Skills and the HSE? How is that working in practice? It costs money to follow this up. Is the lack of clear title causing a problem? Since the HSE has an involvement, perhaps we should ask it about that and about how it relates to the Department of Education and Skills. A few relate to the HSE, not just that one.
We need to remind ourselves of the context. A special report of the Comptroller and Auditor General looked at this and the whole indemnity scheme in the first instance. Was there a cap of €128 million on the contribution from the religious bodies? Was that their contribution?
There has been some progress, and perhaps the figure has increased, but the position is still unacceptable. Let us be honest about it. This scheme, which was put in place in 2002, is a joke. Many of us commented on the fact that the religious orders got off the hook almost completely. The taxpayer footed-----
I am sorry Deputy. This has been going on for 16 years. I want to say to the Accounting Officer that it says something about how the Department of Education and Skills follows up issues relating to taxpayers' money. I hope it does not have broader implications across the public service. As a result of our previous meeting, the committee asked for a breakdown report by report. On 23 July, Mr. Ó Foghlú wrote to us with a detailed breakdown. He gave us those commitments, we did not ask him to do so. In respect of each of the outstanding properties, we asked him to provide a breakdown as to the position at the end of June 2018 and the timescale for completion. That letter was dated 23 July. I am referring to the commitments he voluntarily gave last June. Mr. Ó Foghlú outlined which items would be completed by the end of September. We gave him further time. At the end of September, we asked him how he had got on in respect of the commitments he gave to the committee in writing in June.
I will now outline the current situation. I have the letter Mr. Ó Foghlú sent to the committee in June. The heading is "Properties not fully and finally completed under the 2002 agreement". We are discussing the 2002 agreement. Mr. Ó Foghlú told us in July that the estimated date for completion regarding the property at Waterpark, Newtown Road, County Waterford, was the end of September. That was his commitment. Today, he states that the estimated timeframe has moved to the second quarter of 2019. Not only did he not meet the commitment he gave to us for the end of September, in his most recent letter he has moved the completion date out by nine months to the end of next June. That is unacceptable.
The next property Mr. Ó Foghlú mentions is Coiscéim, Cappoquin, County Waterford. The commitment he provided in respect of that property was that the estimated timeframe for completion was the end of September. That had been revised from the previous quarter. What happened with that commitment for the end of September? The estimated timeframe is now the end of the fourth quarter. That has been moved back by three months and the commitment not been delivered upon.
The next item on Mr. Ó Foghlú's list was the fifth item on his list for the last day. It refers to the Sacred Heart centre in Waterford. The estimated time he gave the committee for completion in that instance was the end of September. That had also been moved already from a previous commitment. His response to us today is that it is now being pushed back a further three months.
In the context of the 2002 agreement, none of the three commitments Mr. Ó Foghlú gave to us in writing has been honoured. That is the problem. I do not mind once it has been done but I am not going to have people give commitments to this committee in writing and then fail to honour them. There has been 100% failure to meet the deadlines. They are Mr. Ó Foghlú's deadlines. We will accept the current deadlines he has provided. They are the ones he has chosen for the second or third time, but they had better be honoured in full. Mr. Ó Foghlú is not to come back seeking a further update. If he has a problem, he must inform the committee. If he does not believe those commitments are achievable, why is he stating in writing that they are achievable?
Mr. Ó Foghlú gave us a commitment after due consideration. The question is what has happened? Did he not give proper consideration when he provided the initial deadlines or has something happened in the meantime? We want to know. I will finish the record then and speed matters up a bit. This is no better. Appendix 2 lists properties accepted for transfer under the 2009 voluntary agreement. The situation in this regard is something similar. Mr. Ó Foghlú has moved the commitment in respect of St. Bernard's group home, Fethard, County Tipperary. It was to be completed at the end of the third quarter. That has now moved to the end of the fourth quarter 2018. On lands in respect of Convent Road, Cahir, County Tipperary, that was to be completed at the end of the third quarter 2018 and has now moved to the end of the fourth quarter, another three months. The property in Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan had a revised timeframe that was to be the end of 2018 and Mr. Ó Foghlú is now moving it to the end of June 2019. He is moving that back by six months. We also had Scoil Phádraig primary school, Altamont Street, Westport, County Mayo. The estimated timeframe there has been moved from the end of 2018 to the end of June 2019. As far as I can see, none of the commitments given to the committee has been honoured.
Yes. That is what has happened for 14 consecutive years. It is not going to continue. Somebody has to call a halt. I am saying to the Department of Education and Skills that the Office of the Chief State Solicitor or whichever State body has responsibility is not getting the business done from a legal perspective. I do not want to have to bring Mr. Ó Foghlú back before the committee to deal with this matter. We will have to do so, however, if this keeps happening. I do not intend to do it at this stage. We will accept these current deadlines but we want to know why Mr. Ó Foghlú provided the original deadlines, why these were not me and how confident he is in the context of the new deadlines. If Mr. Ó Foghlú does not meet his new deadlines, he will be explaining why on a case-by-case basis. I am sorry for going on about this but if the committee is to be thorough in its work, that is the nitty-gritty end of the business we have to do in order to send a signal.
In the future, we will not accept letters containing commitments if we can identify, with the passage of time, a failure to honour previous commitments.
No. 1664B is correspondence from Mr. Jim McGlynn, director of organisation support and development, Donegal ETB, dated 17 October 2018, providing information requested by the committee regarding a payment made to the Revenue Commissioners on foot of an underpayment of PRSI in the period 1997 to 2011. We will note and publish this.
No. 1666B is correspondence from Mr. Ray Mitchell, assistant national director, HSE, dated 18 October 2018, in response to two requests from the committee for information on the direct and indirect costs of the Portlaoise review group and the charging of residents for incontinence wear at the Brothers of Charity Services in Roscommon. On the cost of the Portlaoise review group, the HSE confirmed the legal fees.
There are two aspects to this. The legal fees were €94,340 and the cost of the investigating team was €305,320.34, giving a total cost of €399,660.34. There were no significant indirect costs because the members of the review group were all external to the service. We will note and publish that information.
On the charging of residents for incontinence wear, we will note and publish the response and send a copy to Deputy Fitzmaurice, who made the original inquiry.
I am aware of this case and I do not concur with the briefing note. I am concerned that the HSE is not fully up to speed with the situation. The HSE did not exist in 1997 so, presumably, the reference is to the relevant health board. This group was charging a daily rate, in the normal way, of €12.50 and, in addition, was charging people for incontinence wear. The issue was pursued by a long-term resident's family and eventually the HSE and the group were dragged, kicking and screaming, to reimburse some money to the individuals' families.
The note before us states that those involved have got all their money but I have information to suggest otherwise and that some people were not reimbursed for the period 1997 to 2001. A family raised the issue in 2013 and was refunded €6,000 out of a possible €21,000, meaning €15,000 remained outstanding. On the back of the 2005 change, the Minister of the day, Mary Harney, introduced legislation to deal with illegal charges. However, for this one resident, the service decided to impose a retrospective, long-term-stay charge to reduce the €15,000 that it may have been applicable to return. The situation continued for a number of years, with families being put through an extraordinary level of difficulty. Questions were not answered and there is a deeper problem than is covered in this note. I would like the section 38 organisation, along with the appropriate people from the HSE, to join us in order to discuss the matter in more detail. This note suggests that the synergy project, Mary Harney's legislation and the HSE's own initiatives, dealt with the problem but that is not the case. The evidence will show that those involved were dragged, kicking and screaming, to acknowledge this as an issue and to refund the money in full. To this day, moneys from the period 1997 to 2001 remain outstanding for some families. I also have concerns that the Ombudsman closed the case without adequately dealing with all the facts.
Public money has been provided to the Brothers of Charity Services - most recently €105,335, on a once-off basis, for this year - so we could usefully have this section 38 organisation before us, together with the appropriate people from the HSE. In advance, and, if necessary, with names redacted, they might provide us with details of how much was charged to these individuals, how much was refunded and when. It could be a short deliberation but it is necessary because I am not entirely comfortable with the idea that this might be replicated elsewhere.
I met the family concerned during the summer and I accept that we cannot leave matters as they stand. Perhaps we could publish the note with caveats attached and members could meet them outside the setting of the Committee of Public Accounts. It might be the case that they do not want the matter brought to a public meeting of the committee.
I do not need to meet them again, and there are sufficient questions. I will not be mentioning the names of the residents or talking about personal information because I am only interested in public money and illegal charging.
We want to go into this matter and I am with the Deputy on it. However, the families might have a concern and they are clearly identifiable within the institution because the organisation knows about the issue. I want to be sensitive to the people who are living in the nursing home and their families and I do not want to escalate something in such a way as to make them uncomfortable.
We all have enough meetings to go to and I do not need any more information. Ask them if they mind us pursuing this and tell them we will not be mentioning their names. I would say they will unanimously say we should do it.
It might be wise to broaden it past incontinence wear because that might help to avoid the issue with people's personal details. In my previous job, I had reason to notice that it is not just incontinence products that are not covered, or "coded", by the HSE. Complex syringes are not covered either. We often hear of residents getting a bill for blister packing of medications, for catheters and for incontinence wear. Incontinence wear is generally provided for in a public health place and people put it in the boot of their cars. There is luxury incontinence wear for which there is a differential in price, and people sometimes have a preference for it over the product provided by the State. It might be wise to look at the charges for people in nursing homes on top of their basic rate. One hears of charges for certain activities and for mass, for example, so it may be a wider issue.
Deputy O'Connell is right. The Ombudsman was before the Committee on Public Petitions to discuss the report into additional charges in the nursing home sector and the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, also appeared before the committee in recent weeks. There are detailed reports on it. The private sector is beyond the scope of investigations by the Houses of the Oireachtas but it is worth noting.
I concur on the wider issue. I have come across matters such as mattresses being required. It is across the spectrum.
The other response concerned the Portlaoise review group. I recall somebody stating that other inquiries that were carried out should not just sit there and be viewed as nothing more than a cost and that lessons should be learned from them. It might have been Deputy Connolly who said that. We had an understanding of the totality of those inquiries, of what they cost and of the lessons taken from the review.
Yes. The State Claims Agency has a system for monitoring and recording all of those. It is the national incident management system, NIMS. This is an issue to which we will return when the representatives from the State Claims Agency appear before us in a fortnight to discuss medical negligence.
In the meantime, I have given an undertaking to follow up on this matter. I will communicate further with the family I met during the summer in order to touch base with them before we make direct contact with the section 39 organisation. Deputy O'Connell suggested that we broaden our examination to include other matters. However, Deputy Cassells indicated that the Ombudsman has compiled a report. The first action we must take is to have that report circulated to members in order to discover whether it contains information on which we can follow up. We are not going to redo the Ombudsman's work.
It depends on what is classed as the key issue. The key issue here is charges on people in residential homes in addition to their regular bills. The can range from bingo to incontinence pads. It is a wider issue if people are vulnerable and-----
We will keep both alive.
No. 1667 B is correspondence from Ms Katherine Licken, Secretary General of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, in response to a request made by the committee for information regarding Galway's designation as European Capital of Culture for 2020, including the new structures and plans for the money that has been allocated and the service level agreements that have been put in place. We can note and publish that. Is that agreed?
I agree, but I note that the correspondence is dated 17 October. I welcome it. This is something on which we are keeping a close eye in view of what happened with the Pálás Cinema in Galway and the failure of governance and Department oversight there. The letter reassures us that the Department is monitoring this matter closely and that an audit committee, on which the Minister is represented, has been set up and meets regularly. I remain concerned, however, that there is no performance delivery agreement for the Galway 2020 programme. I have asked numerous parliamentary questions and followed the issue up here. I have been informed that it is coming and that the terms of the agreement set out the conditions for the release of the funds. Presumably, this means that they will do so. We are talking about €15 million. Some €250,000 has already been disbursed and a further €6 million will be disbursed in 2019.
I am raising this matter because we have been here already with the Pálás Cinema. We have been here with a special chapter from the Department. All of these are very good ideas. The Pálás Cinema was a very good idea. It is a privilege for Galway to be named European Capital of Culture 2020, but the operation of it is a completely different matter. The performance delivery agreement is at an advanced stage of negotiation. In the meantime, a series of people have left the board in Galway. It is interesting that we have a head of programme, a head of production, a director of communications, a director of finance and operations and a head of human resources for Galway 2020, but we do not yet have anyone in charge of the culture and leadership role. The Department recognises that this is important. The Galway 2020 programme seriously lacks of someone in charge with, in the Department's terms "the required creative talent".
I highlight this because we look back on the Pálás Cinema story and we cannot do anything about it. We can certainly do something about the governance of this from the Department's point of view and from our own. I would like to see a performance delivery agreement or whatever it is called.
A commitment has been given that the performance delivery agreement will be in place with the Department by the end of October, which is next week. We will ask to have a copy of it by 6 November, in advance of our next meeting.
I thank the Chair. As a very important aside, I would say that the board should have some sense and go back to the creative talent on the ground in Galway, which is something for which the artists have asked. However, that matter falls outside the remit of the committee. The board should make this an artistic, not a business, endeavour.
We will ask for that to be with us in advance of our next meeting. That is agreed.
No. 1672 B is correspondence from Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, president of National University of Ireland Galway, providing information requested by the committee on non-competitive procurement to the value of €5.2 million and severance payments and out-of-office leave payroll costs of €91,000, both arising from the 2017 financial statements. Under the heading "Details of 'non-competitive' procurements €5.2m", the letter states, "We attach the requested list in Excel file format together with background explanation/details".
In a moment. G4S Secure Solutions Ireland Ltd. was paid €373,302 without competitive procurement. That is extraordinary. Tomkins and Co. was paid €241,074, Micromail Limited was paid €208,989, Core Computer Consultants Ltd. was paid €180,100 and Swimworld was paid €127,980 without competitive procurement. I know there are not many procurement options for Swimworld's tender but I cannot understand some of the others.
Seven items were identified by the Comptroller and Auditor General. There is another list which does not include the Comptroller and Auditor General's seven times. Did the University not identify that group of seven, is the correspondence simply putting both together, or-----
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
I cannot say offhand but perhaps the university identified these separately. We have been pushing for third-level institutions and all State bodies to undertake an exercise each year of looking at all of their procurements and identifying where they had not procured by competitive means. We would expect to see a schedule every time.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
Yes. That would usually be the case in an organisation. It is different in the HSE.
Some 13 items have been identified that did not meet procurement requirements and the amount of money involved was over €100,000 in each case. The report details the actions at the end of it. The covering letter says it is attaching the request to the Excel format together with background explanation details as furnished to the Comptroller and Auditor General and that it is styled as appendix three, finding one, including action to mitigate reoccurrence. I had missed that Excel document. I will hold that over because I would like to study that in more detail. We will note and publish it as it is but we will hold it over for a discussion on it. It is a useful example of public procurement-----
We will come back to that because there is quite a bit of information there and we will not delay this morning's meeting with it.
No. 1673 B is correspondence received from Jackie Maguire, chairperson of the County and City Management Association, CCMA, dated 22 October 2018, which has declined our invitation to attend today’s meeting on a voluntary basis to assist us in our examination of matters relating to housing supply. As I mentioned, due to the fact we are dealing with housing, we had asked the county and city managers to send a representative in view of their very senior positions and key role in delivering social and affordable housing. As we know, the CCMA is not under the remit of the Committee of Public Accounts but I propose we write to it again asking it to assist us in a voluntary capacity and to be helpful to the committee and the Oireachtas in examining the housing issue. The CCMA has knowledge and information that could be helpful to the public. It has a key role and I do not mind whether the individual chief executives come in or whether they come in formally representing the CCMA but we need to see some people who can assist this committee in its work. We will write back in that vein.
I endorse what the Chairman said but I would write to Ms Maguire, as chairperson, in the strongest possible terms. Like the Chairman, I do not mind if the CCMA sends in one representative, be it the chairperson or someone else, or if individual CEOs come in. We can bring in the 40 or so CEOs and get deck chairs but I have consistently said that they have a statutory responsibility to this State and its citizens and they are as important to delivery of services as any Secretary General or Minister. They are a linchpin in the delivery of services in society because at this level in the Houses of the Oireachtas we allocate money on a headline figure basis and the implementation of that then goes to the chief executive officers who are given a high standing within this society. It is imperative that the CCMA sends a representative and participates in this committee on these matters.
The chief executives have overall responsibility for the local authorities of which they are the chief executives of. I refer to drilling down into some of the aspects. Housing goes across a range of different departments within a local authority - for example, the oversight of approved housing bodies is one while the likes of the delivery of local authority housing and builds is another. Then there is the finance section that would deal with everything from local authority loans to HAP, rent and issues like that. There are elements to it and it may well be worth our while identifying the elements that they could be helpful to us on because the oversight is fragmented and it is not possible to close that circle without having that side of it reflected. It might be worth our while identifying specific pieces. It may well want to bring in the director of service of a particular local authority where there are many approved housing bodies. That can provide a more nuanced understanding of it where there is a day to day responsibility.
The chief executives of the local authorities would not have any regulatory or supervisory role with the approved housing bodies. They go to the Department directly. Their documents have to be approved, and shown to be consistent, by the local authority but the gap in the regulation of the approved housing bodies is in legislation. There is a-----
Exactly. We will write back to CCMA because we need the CEOs, as very senior public servants who have a key role in delivering houses, to assist the Oireachtas. One would expect that they would see the merit in that. We accept that legally they are not under the remit of the Committee of Public Accounts but just because they are not legally obliged to come in here is no reason they cannot come in.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
We will talk later about the relationship between the local authorities because the Local Government Audit Service carried out a review in local authorities on how they see the approved housing bodies, AHBs, that operate within their locations and they have made a number of recommendations on how that relationship needs to be tightened up.
That is the main subject of the meeting for the rest of the day.
No. 1675 B is correspondence received from Mr. Pat Haran, clerk to the Joint Committee on Health dated 19 October 2018, regarding the report undertaken by Dr. Scally in relation to the CervicalCheck screening programme. We will note and publish this. This is an effort to ensure the work of the Joint Committee on Health, which is also looking at this, is not duplicated by the Committee of Public Accounts. In terms of value for money, tendering for contracts with the laboratories and financial matters, the Committee of Public Accounts can deal with those issues. It is good to clarify that.
No. 1676 B is correspondence received from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, regarding the appointment of Mr. Brendan Gleeson as Accounting Officer for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We will note and publish this.
Moving to category C, No. 1595 C was held over from the last time. No. 1652 C is correspondence received from an individual dated 16 October 2018. The secretariat has sought the permission of the individual to forward an earlier query regarding waiting lists for psychological assessments to the HSE. Since then, the individual has let us know there have been some developments. However, she raises a question in relation to what she suggests may be ad hocadministration of the waiting list. While this may be a matter for the Joint Committee on Health to look at, I propose we request a note from the HSE in relation to the matter.Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 1654 C is correspondence received from an individual dated 16 October 2018, regarding the funding and ethics of research undertaken by higher education institutions. The correspondence has also been sent to the Department of Education and Skills. The matter raised falls within our remit, or forms part of our engagement with the third level sector. We will continue to work on that area. No. 1658 C is correspondence received from an individual dated 16 October 2018, raising matters with the committee in relation to electricity interconnector. I propose we seek a note from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on the points raised.
No. 1661 C is correspondence received from an individual dated 17 October 2018, regarding the University of Limerick. I propose we write to the individual to inform him that the committee will be examining the matters relating to the University of Limerick when it receives an upcoming report from the Comptroller and Auditor General. We will be in further contact with the individual at that stage. Is that agreed? Agreed.
No. 1663 C is correspondence received from Deputy Catherine Murphy, regarding the Hannaway report. We previously requested the report and the HSE provided a number of slides, but according to the information provided to Deputy Catherine Murphy, this is not the full report. We will again request that the HSE provide the full report. Is that satisfactory?
We will write again to get that.
No. 1669 C is correspondence received from Deputy Catherine Murphy dated 19 October 2018, regarding the extension of the contract for the maintenance of the metropolitan area network by Enet.
Would the Deputy like to comment on that?
Essentially , this is the item that I want us to examine closely. I want us to set aside time to explore it. The net point is that the MANs contract was extended in March 2017. Then the Irish Infrastructure Fund purchased 78% and subsequently, the remaining 22%.
Granahan McCourt is the entity behind Enet. Enet was involved in the roll out of broadband in the metropolitan area networks, MANs, of which there are 94 in the country. The original contract was up to 2019 but in 2017 it was extended to 2030 without a tender. Another entity was looking to tender for the contract, prior to it being rolled over. Essentially, I am asking if value for money was obtained from rolling it over to 2030, particularly when three or four months later a State entity purchased a more lucrative contract. That is the net point.
We will include it as part of our work programme under the broadband topic which we will be dealing with soon.
That completes the correspondence to be considered today.
Three financial statements and accounts have been received since the last meeting. All three, from An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, An Bord Bia and the Heritage Fund, received clear audit reports. The financial statements and accounts are in respect of 2017. I ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to explain the Heritage Fund to the committee as it did not seem to be involved in many transactions in 2017.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy:
It is a fund that was established in the early 2000s to acquire heritage assets. Most of the money was provided between 2001 and 2005 and was used to acquire assets for the National Library and the National Museum as well as some art works. Effectively, the fund is deplete and the balance that remains is just over €200,000.
What I am suggesting is that we hold over our discussion on the work programme until the next meeting because we have witnesses waiting to come in. We can discuss the timetable at our next meeting. We have not done any advance work on it and only have a timetable laid out for the next few weeks. I am quite happy to come back to that issue in the context of the work programme. We will make sure it is listed as a topic for consideration. School transport is on our list but we have no date as yet.
We will now suspend for a few minutes while our witnesses take their seats.